April 14, 2023

How to Become a Resilient Athlete

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What is one major underlying trait that confident people and athletes share? Resilience.

Resiliency is the ability to recover quickly from difficulty or hardship. We are all going to fail and we most likely will fail a lot. Confident athletes are the ones that pick themselves back up and keep moving forward.

In no time, these athletes succeed enough to build repetitive success which builds confidence. But how do we increase our underlying resilience to become more confident? How do we work on overcoming an error fast?

When playing sports at any level, there is pressure and challenges every athlete must face. Athletes that work on their mental resilience, and make it as important as their physical training, tend to see more success in their athletic careers.

Resilient athletes develop confidence in their capacity to recover and overcome adversities.

Why is Resiliency Important?

According to research, resilience is important for athletes to be able to “withstand the pressures that they experience”.

Athletes at all levels experience a wide range of pressures. The pressure to perform well from coaches and teammates is one. But also the pressure of family, peers, and other outside factors can affect an athlete.

One of the most substantial pressures is peer pressure. As an athlete, you want to perform well for yourself, and also for your teammates. When you make an error, it can be embarrassing. Sometimes it can even affect the way a game turns out. No one wants their teammates to tease and ridicule them for making a mistake.

Being able to withstand these pressures) and refocus on your athletic abilities is all a part of building resiliency.


@blayzesoccer Do you you need to feel 100% perform at a high-level? No! The best indicator of your performance is focus. #soccer #soccerdrills #soccertraining ♬ original sound - Blayze Soccer


Determining Resiliency

In one study, sports psychologists determined there are four factors that help establish a player’s resiliency. Confidence, motivation, perceived social support, and adaptive perfectionism. When an athlete has one or more of these factors, evidence indicates that this athlete typically has high resiliency.

1. Many of us believe confidence is something we just naturally do or do not have. This is completely untrue. Confidence is something that can be trained and developed like any skill-based technique.

A great way to build confidence is to build out your list of goals (goals must be measurable and only focused on things you can fully control). We need a list of large goals and the sub-goals that we can track week over week.

We build confidence slowly and systematically by achieving our smaller goals, which layer into helping us achieve our larger goals. The more we achieve smaller and larger goals the more we build our confidence in the activity we’re focused on.

Proper goal setting is something a coach should absolutely help an athlete with and it's something our team of coaches do every day at Blayze through our on-on-one Blayze program.

2. Athletes can be self-determined with their motivation. This means they participate in a sport because they find the sport enjoyable. The athlete continues with the sport because they like it, even when faced with adversity. Also, athletes will take part in their sport for external motivating factors as well, like winning and trophies.

The simple fact that you want to be more resilient means you have motivation. What are some other reasons you enjoy playing your sport? Is it your teammates? When the crowd cheers? The joy you get from creating an amazing play? Sit by yourself for a bit and try making a list of all the reasons you love your sport. See what motivates you to continue even when you make an error.

3. Perceived social support implies the athletes have outside help from their social environment when needed. Their social network can help them overcome adversities or setbacks.

Not all athletes have strong social support. But it is important to find either a mentor or a coach you can talk to you when you are faced with adversities. If you cannot talk to your friends or parents, a coach or mentor can also help guide you through problems. Don’t let a weak social support network stop you from accomplishing your goals!!

4. Perfectionism indicates an athlete’s drive to set high standards for themselves. It also relates to their perceived gap in skill from their current state of performance to their desired state of performance.

Before you worry that you have to be a perfectionist to grow in your sport, the use of perfectionism here is different. These scientists are indicating that perfectionism is the ability to identify where your skills are and where they should be. AND the willingness to put in the hard work to grow those skills. Do not be afraid to attempt to perfect a few of your skills. If your team coach is unable to help you perfect these skills, then you may want to see the advice and guidance of a private coach.

Now that you have identified if you have one or more of these traits, how do you develop resiliency?

How to Build Resiliency

Here are some steps to help you develop and grow your resiliency. This is not a definitive list and you may find other tactics work better than some. Feel free to add your own additional methods to help you overcome challenges and build resiliency.

Refocus your mind

There are times when playing that your mind will become clouded. Especially in high-stress moments or when your nerves are high. Travis Thomas, USMNT coach, mentions that when you can remove emotion from your the situation, then you can clear your head and focus on what matters.

For example, maybe you are nervous before a game. You are worried you will make an error that hurts your team. Thomas suggests taking a few moments to breathe and clear your head, allowing you to remove those nerves and anxious thoughts. When the nerves are calmed, then you can refocus your mind on what you need to focus on. Passing accurately, strong shots on goal, using your body to block the opponent, etc.

And remember, the best players in the world get nervous before a game, just like you. Accept those nerves and refocus.

@blayzesoccer The best players in the world all feel nervous just like you. Accept the nerves and refocus. #soccer #soccerdrills #soccercoaching #soccertraining ♬ original sound  - Blayze Soccer

Identify your personal motivation

Do you know your goals? What do you want to achieve as an athlete? What kind of values do you want to have as an athlete? Identifying what motivates you can help you block out stress and refocus on your goals.

It is important to write your goals down. Why? Because it helps you identify what you want to accomplish and what you need to do to accomplish those goals. Blayze soccer coach and NWSL star, Cassie Miller states that when you visualize your goals and put them in writing, you can actually change the way your brain thinks of those goals.

Writing down those goals, for both as an athlete and as a person, helps to narrow your focus on what you need to do to accomplish your goals. This in turn helps to boost short-term motivation and excitement.

Anticipate Setbacks

All athletes know that there are hardships and negative moments within their sport and growth. But, planning what might go wrong and knowing how you will cope with these issues will help lower anxiety and build your confidence.

When you reflect on what might get in your way, you can better prepare yourself for finding a solution to the problem. For example, if you know you are about to play a very physical team, prepare yourself by getting your body ready physically. Maybe this means doing pushups every day. Or working with your team during practice on tactics of using your bodies to shield the ball.

When you anticipate certain setbacks or challenges, you are in a better position to manage or even prevent them.

Evaluate setbacks constructively

Instead of looking at setbacks as failures, look at them constructively. This means reviewing your performance with an unbiased and unemotional perspective. What elements could you control during your performance? What elements were not (i.e. weather)? What did you learn from the experience?

How to evaluate on your own.

  1. Take a breath, give yourself no more than 24 hours to feel bad after a big mistake.
  2. Analyze: Now that we are in a less emotional state let’s work with our coach to analyze what went wrong, why it happened, how do we fix it.
  3. Form an action plan: How are we going to make sure we don’t make this same mistake again. What is our plan moving forward.
  4. Get back out there: We have accepted the mistake, we know what happened, we know how to fix it, now we get out of our own way and get back to work.

Life balance

Athletes that create a balance between their sport and social life can better mentally develop resilience. Participate in different activities with family and friends. This helps to distract you from the stress of your sport and team. Being able to step back and switch your focus to something else gives your brain a break and allows for mental recovery.

How to Be a Resilient Soccer Player

It is easy for someone to say, push out the negative thoughts, but it is not always easy to know how! Or how do you overcome a huge in-game error? Zoe Morse, NWSL defender for Chicago Red Stars says it takes grit to move past your mistakes.

When Zoe played for the USNWT U-17 team, the team played Mexico in the semi-finals. The game came down to penalty kicks. Zoe missed her PK and the team did not go through to the finals. After that day, Zoe made a vow to herself to never miss another PK. If her team needed her to take one, she was going to make that shot.

For three years, she committed herself to take a PK at the end of every practice. Then she found herself on the USWNT U-20 team in the World Cup against Trinidad and Tobago. The game came down to penalty kicks. Zoe did not miss her kick and the women’s team went through to the next round. Now that is a resilient mindset!

In a Blayze monthly call, Zoe encouraged her athletes to not get discouraged when they make a mistake on the field. If you make a mistake, return to the basics. Don’t try and overdo it to fix the problem. You will only create more problems. Many times, players will try and overcompensate for an error by doing fancy moves or creating trick plays. But what they need to be doing is simplifying their playing.

By playing simple and returning to the basics with your skills, you can slowly build up your positive plays. These small victories will build, and you will find your confidence once again. The error completely forgotten as you are now focused and working again.

Learning to Refocus

Zoe mentions using your breath as a method to recenter and refocus your mind. When you focus on your breathing, it will help to remove emotion from the mistake. Then your mind can clear, and you can move on.

Breathing is a powerful tool, and many experts are finding it is key to helping athletes perform at elite levels. But breathing and mindfulness are not something you can just start doing. It does take practice.

Learn to master your breathing as an athlete and lower your nerves here!

Huberman Lab podcasts dive deep into the science of refocusing your brain. He notes that the state of focus is a dynamic state. It is not something you can go into and stay into. You are continually flowing in and out of focus.

When a person understands that focus fluctuates, then they can release the pressure and stress of “needing to focus!” Be patient with yourself as you work on your ability to focus. You can improve your focus by practicing being focused.

Neuroplasticity, the ability of your brain to grow and change as you learn new information, is what helps you develop focus. What we repeat gets etched into our nervous system over time.

An easy way to start is to notice when you become frustrated or distracted in training. When this happens, stop for a few seconds, and focus solely on your breathing. This will only take a few moments. Focusing on your breath will help calm your mind and remove emotion. Each time you do this, it will become easier and faster for you to reset your mind. Then you can apply it to a game when needed.

Learn More With Blaze!

Use your ability to refocus and move past mistakes to help develop a deeper resiliency in your sports career. This is not something that will happen overnight. It takes patience and practice.

If you find you are struggling to be resilient or could use some extra guidance on focusing and developing grit, then we are here to help!

At Blayze we give you personalized video analysis coaching sessions and individual training programs, plus mentorship from professional coaches.

Our Blayze program breaks down the barriers to finding elite-level training by making top-tier coaches available for ALL athletes. Custom-developed coaching sessions can help you improve your on-field skills, so you are performing at your very best in every game. For a truly unique and personalized feedback experience, click HERE to learn more about the Blayze program!

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